On Jersey Number Retirements

The Red Wings announced yesterday that they will retire the #4 of Leonard “Red” Kelly prior to their game against the Toronto Maple Leafs on February 1, 2019.

Kelly won four Stanley Cups as a defenseman with the Red Wings in the early 1950s, was the team’s captain later in the decade, and then was traded to the Maple Leafs during the 1959-60 season (as punishment for disclosing that he had played on a broken ankle, something Detroit general manager Jack Adams was keeping secret).  He switched to playing center with Toronto and won four more Stanley Cups.

After retiring in 1967, Kelly was named to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1969.  The Maple Leafs honored his number on October 4, 2006, and fully retired it on October 15, 2016, in a celebration of the team’s 100th anniversary.

Retiring Red Kelly‘s number makes sense but I still can’t shake a cynical feeling about it.

It’s an honor that should have happened in the early 1990s.  The Red Wings retired Ted Lindsay‘s #7 and Alex Delvecchio‘s #10 in 1991, Terry Sawchuk‘s #1 in 1994, and Sid Abel’s #12 in 1995.  Kelly would have fit perfectly into that group as the core of the team’s early 1950s Stanley Cup Championships.  That his number wasn’t raised to the rafters then seemed to show that it wouldn’t be.

Since then we’ve seen Steve Yzerman‘s #19 and Nicklas Lidstrom‘s #5 raised, with much pomp and circumstance leading up to the events.  The dates were announced before the start of the season and ticket packages were sold around them.

So to see Kelly’s number retired now, with the announcement tucked into a pregame press availability, gives me a bad vibe.  It feels to me like a ploy to get people to come down to a game between a bad team and a very good team.

That said, as I Tweeted last night, the timing makes more sense than the Wings usually give to jersey retirements.  Toronto is the perfect opponent to raise Kelly’s number against, while history shows the team preferring to do so against a lesser draw on a weeknight to boost their ticket sales.  So if there’s a reason to give the team the benefit of the doubt, it’s that.

Whatever the reason, a deserving number is going to the rafters, righting the wrong of it not having been up there already.

But if I’m talking about wrongs, I have to mention Larry Aurie.  The franchise’s first star player, Aurie led the Red Wings in their early days, including when the team was known as the Cougars and the Falcons.

Jack Adams thought enough of Aurie that his #6 was retired in 1939, when Aurie hung up his skates.  It was later brought back into circulation so that Aurie’s cousin, Cummy Burton, could wear it, then put back into retirement.

Gordie Howe‘s #9 later joined Aurie’s #6 as unavailable, but in old arenas like The Olympia, teams rarely raised numbers to the rafters.

That changed with the team’s move to Joe Louis Arena and Mike and Marian Ilitch buying the team from the Norris family.  Howe’s #9 was the first number given a banner.  Ted Lindsay, Alex Delvecchio, Terry Sawchuk, and Sid Abel would follow.  Aurie did not.

At some point, the team’s story became that the core of the 1950s Cup Championship teams were all Hall of Famers and that only those in the HHOF would get banners.  Aurie never made it to the Hall, so his number would be retired but not honored.

Then the 2000-01 NHL Guide and Record Book came out, with Aurie’s #6 no longer listed among the team’s retired numbers.  Suddenly it was not only not honored but not even retired at all.

Despite this seeming lost of status, #6 was not assigned between 2000 and 2010, when Mike Modano signed with Detroit.  Modano – unable to get his usual #9 due to it’s retirement for Howe – asked about #6.

“I wanted No. 6, but they told me about Larry Aurie,” said Modano, referring to Aurie, who played between 1927-39, and had his number retired by former Wings owner James Norris.

“I thought it would be easy to just flip 9 to 6,” Modano said. “I would have loved 6, but maybe 90.”

If the all-time leading American scorer can’t have the number, that sure sounds to me like it’s retired.

They may not have raised banners to celebrate that in the 1930s, but we do now, and it’s time for Aurie’s number to have that honor.

And then there’s Sergei Fedorov.

There was buzz over the summer that Fedorov’s #91 might be retired this season, something that didn’t come to happen.  Chris Ilitch commented on that when Kelly’s number retirement was announced.

“Obviously Sergei was an outstanding Red Wing. He was a big part of bringing three Stanley Cups to Detroit. He’s in the Hockey Hall of Fame,” Ilitch answered. “The subject of number retirement, it’s an important subject, it deserves a lot of conversation, a lot of thought. We’re continuously evaluating that with our organization. Related to 91 and 40 (Henrik Zetterberg), let’s see what the future holds.”

It wasn’t what Ilitch said, though, that really explained where Fedorov stands with the organization.  That was Jim Devellano.

“There are other things that I’m not going to get into,” Devellano said. “Do you realize that he wanted out of the Red Wings (organization) on two occasions? Are you familiar with that? Did you know he turned the owners down on a 5-year, $50 million contract? Did you know he signed an offer sheet with the Carolina Hurricanes and we had to match with a $24 million signing bonus?”

What this makes clear is that this is an organization that holds grudges.

You buy a team, you get to run it how you want, and that means you don’t have to honor any players you don’t want to.  We’ve seen that with Aurie (for whatever reason) and we’ll see that with Fedorov.  We’ll probably see it with Pavel Datsyuk.

Pregame: Avalanche @ Red Wings – 3/6

I’ll be heading down to Detroit for Lidstrom Night shortly so I figured I’d throw together a whole bunch of stupid notes leading into it…

The Red Wings are 3-2 all-time on nights that they formally retire a player’s number. They lost, 3-2, when Gordie Howe‘s number was retired. It was a 6-4 win twenty years later when Alex Delvecchio and Ted Lindsay were honored. In the only other March 6th jersey retirement, they dropped a 3-2 decision as Terry Sawchuk‘s banner was raised. When Sid Abel’s number went up, they won, 4-2. Most recently, they won, 2-1, for Steve Yzerman Night.

The only players in the Detroit lineup tonight who dressed for Yzerman Night are Niklas Kronwall and Johan Franzen.

Daniel Cleary, Mikael Samuelsson and Henrik Zetterberg all played on Yzerman Night but are out of the lineup now.

Pavel Datsyuk is the only player to have been hurt for both ceremonies.

This is only the second jersey retirement in team history to come after the NHL’s trade deadline. The other was Abel’s during the lockout-shortened 1995 season.

Ceremony time is 6:30 PM on FSD. Game time is 8:00 PM.

On Unretiring Jersey Numbers

I’ve had my head in code all week so I’m getting to this a little late but I wanted to take the time to say a few words anyway.

On Wednesday night, Jamie Samuelsen posted to his blog at the Freep that maybe certain numbers currently retired by Detroit-area sports teams should be unretired to allow new players to honor those who the numbers were retired for in the first place.  Yesterday, Michael Petrella over at TPL touched on it as well.

Personally, I’m against unretiring numbers unless the number never should have been retired in the first place (subjective, I know).  Sometimes teams do stupid things and there should be an option of undoing that.  I hate the fact that the Minnesota Wild have #1 retired in honor of their fans, for example, and would love to see a player go there and wear it.

As much as I’ve complained about what goes in the rafters at the Joe, the Red Wings have a higher standard for jersey retirement.  Maybe too high, as Larry Aurie’s #6 isn’t up there and should be.  As such, I can’t see any reason for one of the Wings’ six (or seven once you include Aurie) retired numbers being returned to use.

Samuelsen asks of a hyothetical question from his six-year-old son…

But if I have a hard time explaining to Josh why the second baseman doesn’t actually stand on second base, I’ll have a much harder time explaining the theory behind a retired number. Wouldn’t I?

And I say that’s your opportunity to teach your team’s rich history.  You explain that there was a player so important to the team that his number has been reserved for him forever.  New players wearing an past great’s number doesn’t teach that

That said, I have a specific case where I think the Red Wings should open up a currently-unavailable number for use again, and given what this week is I expect it to be unpopular.

I think that when Tomas Holmstrom eventually retires as the last of his remaining teammates, Vladimir Konstantinov‘s #16 should be returned to circulation.  Not handed out to some rookie at training camp, but available if an established player came to the team and wanted it.

Konstantinov’s injury was tragic and clearly inspired his teammates on their 1998 Stanley Cup run, but he’s not Gordie Howe or Ted Lindsay or Terry Sawchuk or Alex Delvecchio or Sid Abel or Steve Yzerman or Larry Aurie.

If tragedy is enough to inspire a permanent number retirement, why is Brendan Smith wearing #2 in Detroit?  Jiri Fischer may have a better life than Konstantinov but his career ended just as suddenly, with the added impact of coming in the middle of a game.

Coming the week of the fifteenth anniversary of the car crash that ended Konstantinov’s career, it feels wrong to suggest that the Wings’ honor him less.  That said, I’ve always felt like his number being held out of circulation was more about keeping him a part of the team he was pulled away from.

When Holmstrom retires – whether this year or next – the last remnant of that team will be gone.  It’ll be time to make #16 available again.

Osgood Returns to Wings

A familiar face will return to the Red Wings crease for the 2005-06 season, as Detroit announced on Monday that they had signed goaltender Chris Osgood. Terms of the contract were not officially announced but the deal is reportedly for one year at $900,000.

Osgood broke into the NHL with the Wings in 1993-94 and helped them claim their second Stanley Cup Championship in as many years in 1998. His 221 wins and 30 shutouts as a Red Wing are second only to Terry Sawchuk in team history.

In his 12-year NHL career, Osgood has 305 wins, 41 shutouts and a 2.44 goals against average. In the playoffs his record is 44-33 and his GAA is 2.22.

Osgood shared the Detroit crease with Tim Cheveldae and Bob Essensa in 1993-94 and with Mike Vernon from 1994-1997 before establishing himself as the full-time starter during Detroit’s Stanley Cup run in 1997-98.

He became the scapegoat for the Wings’ 2001 playoff loss to the Los Angeles Kings and after the team acquired future-Hall-of-Famer Dominik Hasek that summer, Osgood was claimed by the New York Islanders in the waiver draft. He was traded to the St. Louis Blues at the 2003 trade deadline.

Refs Ruin Game

In yet another display of the way NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and Director of Officiating Andy Van Hellemond seem determined to drive away all of hockey’s fans, the on-ice officials took it upon themselves to give the Vancouver Canucks a 4-3 overtime win over the Red Wings.

The Canucks are thought by many analysts to be the NHL front office’s Chosen Team to win the Stanley Cup this year so that Commissioner Bettman can prove that small-market Canadian teams don’t actually need any help. Vancouver, with its rough, thuggish style of play guided by the sick mind of coach Marc Crawford, has probably been the main beneficiary of the League’s directive to make phantom obstruction calls instead of focusing more on blatant and dangerous charging, boarding, cross-checking, and high-sticking calls.

The Red Wings got off to a good start against the Canucks, in spite of the fact that one of the referees seemed to be having a Cold War flashback and decided to fight for Truth, Justice, and The American Way by calling non-existent penalties against young Russians Pavel Datsyuk and Dmitri Bykov, who were all of 12 and 13 years old respectively when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.

Vancouver golden boy Todd Bertuzzi actually spent time in the penalty box for mugging Chris Chelios, but the Red Wings didn’t get on the board until early in the second period. They had another power play, this one because Vancouver had had too many men on the ice. Sergei Fedorov, quite happy with his new higher level of ice time, took a pass from Brett Hull and one-timed the puck from the right point. The puck sailed past Dan Cloutier, who perhaps still has nightmares of the shot by Lidstrom which beat him from center ice in last year’s playoffs.

Henrik Zetterberg increased Detroit’s lead shortly thereafter. Datsyuk made a good pass through a few pairs of legs to Zetterberg in front of the net, and Zetterberg easily flipped the puck over Cloutier.

When the Red Wings scored two goals, including a power play goal, within the space of 1:03, it soon became obvious that Detroit would not be getting another power play. But that didn’t seem to matter. The Wings played a very strong period, continually pressuring the Canucks in their own zone and easily killing off a phantom penalty on Datsyuk.

But when Luc Robitaille scored early in the third and Cloutier ran away to hide behind the mattress-sized leg pads of his backup goalie Peter Skudra, the referees realized that the Canucks might actually LOSE, so they sprang into action. (Who knows what evil the League might wreak upon the officials of a loss by Vancouver?!?!?) First came a hooking call on Bykov. Again. The Wings were handling the penalty-killing role nicely, until Bertuzzi dragged his feet just enough to pitch him over Lidstrom’s skate and went flying like a clumsy ballerina. (Really, the man has a future as a melodramatic soap opera actor when his playing days are over…. or at least he would, if he weren’t one of the ugliest men in North America.)

Kris Draper, Kirk Maltby, and Chris Chelios did a heroic job of killing off the 1:02 of 5-on-3 play. Chelios did an excellent job of helping Curtis Joseph defend the net and harrassing the Canuck attackers down low, while Maltby and Draper used their speed and agility to force the other attackers to make quick passes and play keep-away instead of setting up a scoring chance. Bykov came out of the box to help, and the Wings sent the puck down the ice.

Trent Klatt carried the puck back into the Detroit zone and crashed the net. Literally. Like a steamroller. The puck preceded Klatt into the net by an inch or two before the net came up off its moorings, but it should seem fairly obvious to most observers that Joseph cannot stop the puck when he is being leveled by a 225-pound man with full forward momentum. Apparently referee Don Van Massenhoven is no ordinary observer. In the strange and unusual physics of his little world, Joseph would have been perfectly capable of being run over and of making the save at the same time, so Van Massenhoven waved off any unimportant objections such as “goaltender interference” and allowed the goal.

The Canucks pulled Skudra and his mattresses out of the net to send in an extra skater with just over a minute left to play, and Van Massenhoven had another chance to shine. The Canucks were pressuring in the Detroit zone, and Lidstrom sent the puck around behind the net so the Wings could pick it up and clear it on the other side. Van Massenhoven was in the way. The puck hit his skate, his foot moved, and somehow the puck went right to the stick blade of Markus Naslund. What a coincidence! (I’ve seen goals disallowed for less of a kicking motion than Van Massenhoven used in his assist. Sure, you can kick the puck if you’re only setting up a goal, but that’s only if you’re actually ON THE TEAM!) Naslund, who isn’t leading the League in goals for nothing, sent the puck right into the empty corner of the net, in spite of the way everything suddenly seemed to go into slow motion and Cujo flung himself across the crease to try to somehow block the shot.

Goalies sometimes see in slow motion. If a goalie can somehow project his slow motion view of the puck to the fans in the audience and the TV viewers at home, then you know you are watching a very powerful goalie indeed. But a goalie’s power matters little when the referee gets the first assist on the game-tying goal””even Terry Sawchuk himself, who had over 100 career shutouts with shorter seasons and much smaller equipment than the NHL has now, would have been hard-pressed to make that save. (By the way, does ESPN know ANYTHING about sports history? Where do they get off calling Patrick Wah the best goalie ever? Have they never heard of Sawchuk? Esposito? Vezina? Crozier? But don’t get me started on that.)

So, the game went to overtime, and the Canucks proceeded to blatantly obstruct the Red Wings’ attempts to get the puck and set up plays. Hmm, not so quick with the whistles now? Can’t imagine why…. Marek Malik scored the game winner with 1:58 remaining, and Skudra proceeded to jump up and down as if he’d actually done something. Meanwhile, the Red Wings proceeded to go to the dressing room to regroup and try to wash away the nastiness of a game decided by referees before facing the Edmonton Oilers on Thursday night. Fortunately, the Oilers are NOT the Chosen Team this season, so there may even be a chance of a somewhat fair bit of officiating.

Rallying Late

After a slow start and difficulty with penalties, a late-game rally by the Red Wings brought them from behind to tie the Nashville Predators at 3 goals apiece.

The rematch against the Predators did not get off to as good a start as the Wings would have hoped. Just before the midway point in the first period, Detroit had to kill off a minute and sixteen seconds of a five-on-three Nashville power play resulting from overlapping penalties to Jiri Slegr and Kris Draper. The Predators were able to capitalize when Andy Delmore passed along the blue line to Kimmo Timonen, who one-timed a shot which deflected off the skate of Kirk Maltby and into the net past Dominik Hasek.

The Predators followed up their lead by clogging up the center ice area and keeping the Red Wings from setting up quality scoring plays in the Nashville zone. Many of the shots Detroit sent against goaltender Tomas Vokoun were blocked by Nashville players before they could even get to the net.

The Red Wings had a few power play chances of their own, including a high-sticking double minor to Steve Dubinsky early in the second period for clipping Brendan Shanahan on the nose. Even so, the Red Wings were unable to score, and then they ran into more penalty trouble.

This time, they had to kill off fifty-six seconds of Nashville’s five-on-three because of penalties to Tomas Holmstrom and Nick Lidstrom. The three men out aggressively harrassed the Nashville players and kept them from getting comfortable enough to set up a scoring play, until the first penalty had just expired. Just as Holmstrom was stepping out of the box to head up to the play, Timonen sent a blue line pass to Delmore, who one-timed a wrist shot past Hasek.

Detroit finally got a five-on-three power play of their own early in the third period, on calls to Legwand and Cale Hulse. Lidstrom passed the puck along the blue line to Brett Hull at the left point, and Hull sent off a one-timer which bounced off of Vokoun and into the net.

Unfortunately, the Predators used an unusual bounce to score once more and regain their two-goal lead. After a turnover at the blue line, Legwand fired a shot from close to the net. The puck bounced off of Scott Hartnell, then off of Mathieu Dandenault and over Hasek’s shoulder.

Finally, with less than four minutes to play, Kris Draper brought his team a goal and the momentum which went along with it. Draper deflected Steve Duchesne‘s point shot, but Vokoun was able to block. Draper tapped his own rebound into the net as he was falling to bring the Wings back within one, scoring a career-high fourteenth goal of the season.

Shanahan tied up the game a minute and a half later. Hull was unable to hit the original shot hard enough to get it into the net, but Shanahan grabbed the puck before Vokoun could cover it and stop the play. Just as on Draper’s goal, it took two tries to put the puck past Vokoun, and Shanahan made the successful shot while being knocked to the ice.

Pavel Datsyuk had a chance to put the game away before the end of regulation time, with Vokoun caught behind the net, but his shot rang off the goalpost and away from the crease. Neither team was able to score in the overtime period.

Shots on net were forty to twenty-four in Detroit’s favor. Their next game will be Saturday night against the Atlanta Thrashers.

Steve Yzerman plans to begin skating and accompany the team on next week’s West Coast trip, hopefully to return to the ice against one of the California teams”¦.. Dominik Hasek needs three more victories to tie Terry Sawchuk‘s franchise record for the highest number of victories in one season”¦.. Scotty Bowman needs four more victories to tie Jack Adams‘ franchise record for number of wins as the Red Wings’ head coach”¦”¦ Tonight’s tie, with Philadelphia’s loss to Carolina, has won the Red Wings the President’s Trophy and guaranteed them home ice advantage for every round of the playoffs.


A milestone goal, an octopus, an epic brawl, and sewing up the Western Conference lead all in the same game….. It must be getting near playoff time! The Red Wings and Avalanche showed the world that their bitter rivalry is far from dead, as the Wings posted a 2-0 victory.

The first two periods went by mildly enough as the teams felt out each other’s defenses. Dominik Hasek and Patrick Roy kept the puck out of their nets, in spite of power plays and scoring chances for both teams. The Red Wings and Avalanche looked to be fairly equal in goaltending, defense, and offense.

It was in the third period that the game became interesting. Detroit gained over a minute of five-on-three power play opportunity on penalties to Alex Tanguay and Adam Foote, and they were able to take the advantage. Nick Lidstrom passed from the right point to Brendan Shanahan at his usual position on the left wing side, and Shanahan sent off a laser-guided one-time shot that ripped past Roy and into the back of the net, finally scoring his 500th career goal after an eight game goal slump. A Detroit fan in the crowd saluted Shanahan in traditional style, tossing a slimy octopus onto the ice for the Pepsi Center rink staff to clean up.

Shortly thereafter, Martin Skoula dumped Kirk Maltby into Roy’s net, and Roy decided he wanted to fight. Maltby was surprised, but perfectly willing to take the gloves off and throw a few punches. That set off a fight between Sean Avery and Pascal Trepanier in the corner, leaving Trepanier’s lip bruised and bleeding. Finally, everyone on the ice was drawn into the fight, including Hasek, who came all the way from the other end of the rink, dropping gloves and equipment on his way to stick up for the rest of his team. He wound up stepping on his own goal stick and falling, bowling Roy over rather than fighting, but the officials had to keep the two separated while they shouted insults at each other.

The resulting penalty tangle gave Colorado a power play, but Hasek and the penalty killing unit regained their focus with a quickness, giving the Avalanche no chance to score.

Boyd Devereaux gave the Red Wings an insurance goal with just under seven minutes left to play. Brett Hull took a blue line pass from Lidstrom and fired on goal, and Devereaux got just enough contact with the puck to put it into Roy’s net.

The Red Wings ran into trouble at the end of the period. Darren McCarty was sent to the penalty box for hooking, and during the Avalanche power play, Mike Keane purposely fell on Hasek. Chris Chelios took exception to this, and cross-checked Keane in the back. Several times. Finally, the referees called the penalty on Chelios, and when the defenseman argued back, he was given another two-minute penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct, as well as a game misconduct.

This would have put the Red Wings shorthanded for the remainder of the game, over four minutes, had Radim Vrbata not been penalized for high-sticking Kris Draper a few seconds later. Colorado had nearly two minutes of power play time left when the four-on-four was over, and they pulled Roy from the net to gain a six-on-four advantage. Hasek stayed sharp, however, and the Avalanche left the game scoreless.

Roy stopped twenty-four of twenty-six shots over the course of the game, and Hasek stopped all thirty-one of the shots the Avalanche fired on his net, moving him into sole first place as the shutout leader among active goaltenders and putting him three wins away from Terry Sawchuk‘s all-time franchise record for most wins in one season.

The Red Wings’ next game will be Monday night against the Nashville Predators.

Today’s win guaranteed the Red Wings the top spot in the Western Conference. One more loss or two more ties by the Philadelphia Flyers and Boston Bruins, and the Red Wings will have earned the President’s Trophy for most points in a season… Brendan Shanahan is in good company, scoring his 500th career goal against Patrick Roy “” Steve Yzerman did the same thing, 158 goals ago.

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